With the CHL Top Prospects Game going down on Wednesday, it’s a great week for looking at the youngsters vying for attention in the 2011 NHL draft. But there’s more to the prospect game than just major junior, so once again we cast our nets wide to look at the players we’re excited to see in the NHL one day.
Joseph LaBate, C – Academy of Holy Angels Stars (Minn. HS)
Along with Wayzata’s Mario Lucia, LaBate is one of the top players available from the Minnesota high school circuit and he’s intriguing because of the combination of size, skill and speed he brings to the table. At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, he’s got a pro frame and he’s not afraid to use it on the ice.
“I’m a big centerman and I try to use my body well,” LaBate said. “I see the ice very well and I feel players can work pretty well off of me.”
And despite missing most of the Upper Midwest Elite League schedule in the fall with a broken bone in his foot, LaBate hasn’t missed a step for Holy Angels. In 13 games he has 14 goals and 24 points, including four each against top teams Edina and Blake. Playing for Holy Angels, the same school Blues No. 1 pick Erik Johnson went to, is something of a family affair for LaBate, whose brother and sister also attended the private institute.
“I like how it’s a smaller school with smaller class sizes,” he said. “It’s a great community and there’s great fan support.”
With players such as LaBate on the roster, it’s no wonder the Stars fans are emphatic. Draft eligible in 2011.
David Honzik, G – Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
Playing goal at any sort of All-Star Game is a rough assignment, but for Honzik the Top Prospects Game will be a chance to strut his stuff. Playing on the same squad as Chicoutimi’s goaltender Christopher Gibson, the Czech import can make a name for himself. Though Honzik still has bad games, he has won four of his past five starts and there’s no getting past his 6-foot-3, 194-pound frame. Draft eligible in 2011.
Nicklas Jensen, RW – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
If your squad is playing the Gens this month, get ready for a big helping of Danish. Jensen, the Ontario League player of the week, has been held off the scoresheet once in January; the other six games were all multi-point outbursts. The big-bodied Dane now has 21 goals and 41 points in 35 games, good for fifth among OHL rookies. Draft eligible in 2011.
Matt Hewitt, G – Regina Pats (WHL)
This is how the Jaroslav Halaks of the world are discovered: a team takes a chance on a hidden goalie they see potential in. And though Hewitt isn’t technically “hidden” in Regina, he is the backup on a bad team. Nevertheless, he made 40 saves in a recent win over Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ Red Deer Rebels, then followed it up with a 59-save victory over archrival Saskatoon. Those are the two best teams in the league, by the way. Draft eligible in 2011.
Michael Mersch, LW – University of Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)
It’s tough for freshmen to make an impact in the NCAA, but it’s even more difficult for those who haven’t even been drafted yet. Mersch, a late birthday, is in that situation this year, but it hasn’t stopped the 6-foot-1, 196-pounder from chalking up 14 points in 26 games for the Badgers. His plus-17 rating is also good for second on the squad. Draft eligible in 2011.
Joe Morrow, D – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
If you thought Portland was finished producing draft picks with last year’s big outburst, think again. Morrow is part of a second wave of Hawks prospects and has impressed scouts with his skating and hockey sense. He’ll be in Toronto for the Top Prospects Game and he’s bringing his 23 points in 34 games with him. Draft eligible in 2011.
Jeremy Boyce-Rotevall, LW – Timra Red Eagles (Swe.)
A surging Swedish prospect, JBR didn’t even crack the ISS top 150 in November, but now he’s up to No. 65. He’s had his taste of Elite League action this season, logging 25 games of experience, but it’s at the under-20 level where he did most of his offensive damage. With Timra’s young squad, Boyce-Rotevall had 10 goals and 22 points in 21 games. Draft eligible in 2011.
Chase Balisy, C – Western Michigan University Broncos (CCHA)
The conference freshman of the week, Balisy had four points in two wins over Ohio State and has 19 points in 24 games overall. A California product and NTDP alumnus, Balisy’s name has often been mentioned by other Cali kids when talking about the highly skilled players coming out of the state. Draft eligible in 2011 (undrafted in 2010).
Shane Prince, LW– Ottawa 67s (OHL)
Prince has been battling the haters all year long, but his inclusion in the Top Prospects Game is a slight vindication. Speedy and skilled, Prince has been a top OHL scorer consistently throughout the season and currently boasts totals of 55 assists and 76 points in 44 games, putting him second in the league behind teammate Tyler Toffoli. Prince will get a chance to prove he’s more than a lucky linemate in Toronto on Wednesday. Draft eligible in 2011.
Seth Jones, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Don’t look now, but the son of ex-NBA hoopster Popeye Jones is already making noise in Ann Arbor. Despite the fact he’s only 16, Seth Jones leads the NTDP in points by a defenseman in United States League play with 10 in 17 games. He was also an integral part of Team USA’s silver medal squad at the World Under-18 Challenge in Winnipeg. With both size and skill, Jones will be one to watch in the near future. Draft eligible in 2013.
The Hot List, a roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears every Tuesday only on thehockeynews.com. A player is eligible for The Hot List until they play in their first NHL game.
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